As teachers kick off the back-to-school season, we’d like to hear your thoughts about the role technology plays in your classrooms and how you empower your students to navigate digital learning.
To get the conversation started, we asked three former teachers on our team about the benefits and challenges of digital learning, as well as the impact digital literacy can have on today’s students.
What does Digital Learning mean to you?
District Consultant, Elle Patterson:
To me, digital learning means that students are able to experience learning that is interactive, that provides them with targeted instruction based on their unique needs and learning styles, and that allows them to have access to material that may not otherwise be offered at their school.
District Consultant, Hanna Beckman:
Digital learning enables exploration, opportunity and access. By integrating it into the classroom, teachers can:
■ Engage students in new material
■ Reinforce material in different ways
■ Make lessons fun and interactive
It can also increase efficiency for teachers and facilitate communication between teachers and families about student progress.
What role, if any, did computers and digital learning play in your teaching experiences?
Product Manager, Mark Hurty:
I taught a small cohort of students who were differently abled, and by leveraging technology we found places to see their abilities bloom. We used the computers for core academic work — our online reading program was able to adapt to each student’s reading level and would nudge students towards higher levels of comprehension and fluency by progressively increasing the challenges in the reading.
One of the resources I found for students was an online music composition site. I was blown away by the creativity and cleverness of their creations. The most powerful aspect of this particular tool was that it helped these students build confidence and skill, and exposed them to music in a way that supported both their mathematical thinking and created a forum for conversation and enhanced their ability to communicate.
Digital learning was barely used in my schools. Students had access to a computer lab at one of my schools and nothing more than a projector at the other. This just shows how quickly digital learning has progressed in this country over a very short period of time.
Digital learning was a huge component of my teacher experience. I played music when my students entered the classroom, projected materials on the board and students interacted in countless ways, such as reading, pointing, circling, highlighting, underlining, etc.
For brain breaks, I would project interactive games, stretching, or dancing (GoNoodle, Just Kids Dance, Yoga for Kids). I also had a tablet that I would rotate for 1:1 use, especially for kids who were still developing their fine motor skills.
During parent-teacher conferences, I would give family members names of websites/apps they could go on at home or at the library to help their kids with vocabulary and sight words. Computers themselves saved me hours on prep, grading, and progress monitoring.
In your experience, what are some common challenges for teachers when implementing digital learning?
Connectivity issues that prevent sites from loading, not having enough devices, dealing with broken devices, trying to find enough outlets in the classroom, and helping younger students troubleshoot those issues.
Some schools might simply not have the resources to roll out a digital learning program in their classrooms. For those that have, teachers may not have received the necessary training to know how to integrate technology into their instruction.
What kind of impact can access to high-speed Internet have on students in terms of their classroom experiences and overall preparedness?
With the challenges of recruiting highly-trained teachers in general, and even more so in rural areas, access to high-speed Internet might be the only way that some students have access to educational materials that are regularly offered at more highly-resourced schools. Thus, digital learning is the great equalizer in public education.
Digital learning unlocks so many opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. Students practice ownership, independence, and grit through assignments and projects. They build collaboration and communication by working online together even if not in the same room. They can also explore their creativity, innovation, and design skills. The skills learned through digital learning provide access and opportunity to pursue fields they might not have considered otherwise.
Without a broadband connection to the internet, none of my students’ resources would have been available. They would not have had the opportunity to experience the kind of success that helped build their confidence and made them more comfortable when they returned to their general education classes.